Tag Archives: new year

On righteousness, misunderstanding, and weakness

In our church, we do epiphany stars every January.  We select stars with words on them out of a basket and reflect on them over the year, seeking to be open to what God might be teaching us.  Usually there’s some sort of reversal: the meaning of the word originally seems straight forward, obvious, or even kind of narrow, but as the year goes by the star often becomes imbued with a deeper meaning or revelation.

My word for 2014 was righteousness and to be honest, it kind of repulsed me.  When we think of a practical, secular application for righteousness, we’re left with something like self-righteousness, and the theological definition, while presumably positive, brings to mind zealots, judgment, and unattainable holy perfection.

Jersey shore, May 2014.  Photos by Evan Schneider.
Jersey shore, May 2014. Photos by Evan Schneider.

It occurred to me recently that we all spend a lot of time reacting, rather senselessly to one another rather than living with intentions such as kindness, gentleness, and patience.  So much pain and hatred that is spewed is not about us, but very much about the private suffering of others.  The question then becomes, do we choose to spend our time arguing over the validity of that suffering or rather enter into it?

I think Jesus was different because he entered into the suffering of some of society’s seemingly most “deserved”–tax collectors, thieves, and prostitutes, to name a few.  He did not judge their worth by the pain they may have inflicted upon others or the validity of their suffering, but rather, their need for him.  This is a theme I was meditating on a bit a month ago–that it is in our neediness, in our weakness, that we are made holy.

I’m wondering if it is we who misunderstand righteousness to be an elevated, holy ground, whereas it is God who humbles us by making us righteous precisely in our weakness.  I am trying to adopt an intention of kindness, gentleness, and patience in the new year, remaining aware of the illogic of deservedness and the wisdom of grace, the reality of suffering, and the opportunity to be made low and righteous and whole.

Clouds

Amen.

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10 Things I learned in 2014

Christmas lights in NYC.

This is one of my favorite posts to write, because it forces me to go through all the lessons of the previous year and cull together all that God has taught me and all that God is doing.  2014 was such an eventful year for me personally, with the birth of my daughter and the defense of my dissertation.  Both of those have opened up some exciting conceptual space for me to dream and imagine my future vocation and God’s work in my life.

Sometimes that opening is scaring, because it’s always been hard for me to trust God with the future.  But if there’s one thing a new year brings, it is an opportunity to reframe what’s in front of us and see life through the eyes of God rather than our own limited vision.

A lovely cup of coffee. One of my favorite things.

Here’s what I learned this year.  What about you?

1.  Contentment is about living faithfully with uncertainty.

2.  Our lives are fuller when we yield to God and one another.

3.  We can’t have new life without the dirt and the worms and the mud.

Hoping for snow in 2015..

4.  Living as Easter people means risking earthly things for eternal ones.

5.  True love demands a shift in the way we view and live life.

6.  I desire to live with the humble heart of a student.

7.  When we view the world with open eyes, we find grace in our everyday circumstances.

8.  Stress-filled lives are also beautiful and holy, because God is present even in the thick smog of stress, enabling us to breathe.

9.  Everyday we choose whether to live in a world of abundance or one of scarcity.

10.  Whatever you’re feeling, God can take it.

* And the most viewed posts of 2014 were Five Chinese Phrases to Get You By,  International Travel Tips, and Imitating Christ’s Humility = Being “Like-minded.”

 

 

Epiphany: Pondering it all in our hearts

Christmas has come and gone.

In this season, paradoxically called epiphany, we ask our neighbors, “how was your holiday?,” we un-trim the tree, dismantle the decorations, put away the nativity, and resolve to return to our regularly scheduled lives.

But what are our regularly scheduled lives and how do they fit with the violent breaking in of our God in advent, the not so sterilized versions of that stable birth, a season of unadulterated joy, and a baby savior who takes away the sin of the world?  Isn’t the meaning of epiphany, “the manifestation of God,” enough to send us on grand pilgrimages like the wise men and change us forever?

This past advent, our pastor preached passionately about the need to take the nativity off the mantle, to become acquainted with a rather inconvenient and culturally inappropriate pregnancy, the messy squalor of the stable, and welcome this paradoxical savior and all his rupture into our neat, little worlds.  It pains me that we, who have experienced the greatest hope and joy of this season, can think of nothing to ask our children but “what did you get for Christmas?”  How have we really taken the nativity off the mantle if our lives look the same in this holy season of epiphany?  And how can we welcome epiphany if we resolve to go back to our regularly scheduled lives?

In this holy season of afterbirth, joy, and wonder, I encourage you to stop and reflect on the gift of a savior.  I encourage you to ask not just about travel, family, and presents, but the epiphanies that others have experienced in light of the grace we have received.

As Mary pondered all these things in her heart, so might we ponder how Christ has been reborn in us, and how because of this, 2014 will never be the same.

Happy 2013 (a look back).

This past year was filled with so much wonder, discovery, challenge, and I hope, growth.

Exiting a mosque in Cairo's City of the Dead.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
Exiting a mosque in Cairo’s City of the Dead. Photo by Ben Robinson.

I can’t hardly believe that we began the past year in Egypt, on the anniversary of their revolution, traveling with good friends in Cairo and then in the UAE.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever return to the Middle East after such a whirlwind trip, but lately I can’t stop thinking about that trip, the people, the cities, the mystique of it all.

My friend, Emily, and I above Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution this past January.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
My friend, Emily, and I above Tahrir Square on the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution this past January. Photo by Ben Robinson.

My fieldwork really began to pick up in 2012 as I traveled frequently to a new foster care project for disabled children in a village several hours outside the capital city.  I wrote one of the most popular posts on the blog that month, describing some of the lessons I’d learned from doing fieldwork in China, and tried to give you a glimpse of what I really did everyday!

In March, Evan and I spent 72 hours in Hong Kong, where I presented some initial findings of my research to the Department of Anthropology at Chinese University of Hong Kong.  It was one of my favorite trips to one of my favorite cities!

The view from Lantau Island, Hong Kong.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
The view from Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Photo by Evan Schneider.

In May, our friends Zack and Kristina joined us in China and we did another tour of Hanoi and Halong Bay.  Soon, Evan was finishing up teaching, and I was wrapping up fieldwork.  My family joined us in June, and we all traveled to the breathtaking rice terraces outside of Guilin together.  Finally, at the end of July, we left China, and I’ve been looking back ever since.

This is our guide, Xiao Pan, looking out on the rice terraces outside her Yao village, Zhongliu, in the Guangxi mountains.  Photo by David Raffety.
This is our guide, Xiao Pan, looking out on the rice terraces outside her Yao village, Zhongliu, in the Guangxi mountains. Photo by David Raffety.

Back in the US, challenges took a different shape–moving, readjusting to our home culture, academic culture for me, a new job for Evan (yay!).  The last few months feel as though they’ve flown by even faster than our time traveling the world and living in China.  We love being back in Princeton, because our friends seem to enjoy coming back here, too, and we’ve had countless visits from dear friends these past few months.

And though I never thought I’d get there, but I’m starting to ache again to set flight for somewhere new and exotic.  Guess that’s just the anthropologist in me!

My friend, Abbie, and I walk on the canal path this fall in Princeton.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
My friend, Abbie, and I walk on the canal path this fall in Princeton. Photo by Evan Schneider.

2012 was also the five year anniversary for this blog.  Five years of anthropology and ministry, Spanish, Chinese, world travels, centering prayer, physical and spiritual journeying, and gratitude–gratitude for you, dear readers, and gratitude for God’s blessings upon this past year and the next.  Thanks for making this journey with me!

In Cairo, with my husband.  Photo by Ben Robinson.
In Cairo, with my husband. Photo by Ben Robinson.

Happy New Year!

What would you like to see more of on the blog in 2013?